Tell a client you can funnel their online advertising to the right market segment at the right time, using high-conversion distribution channels and at low cost, and the client will either hug you or think you’re selling snake oil.
Online advertising is notoriously fickle; some campaigns may generate a decent click-through rate, others may fizzle, and the person who claims to have an iron-clad success strategy is usually the person who just discovered yesterday’s magic. Yet the evolving use of social media may provide advertisers with a way to improve long-term click through rate (CTR) by focusing on potential customers within their social zone of trust.
Psychology in the e-Village
The old-school networking pros emphasize that people do business with people they know, like and trust. Humans are tribal creatures; we trust our village and often respond skeptically to those on the outside. This basic interpersonal dynamic didn’t evaporate with the Internet; we still tend to associate in like-minded places online just like we do in our neighborhoods or civic groups.
Given the choice, people generally prefer products that compete on price but come from retailers or manufacturers about which the consumer thinks warm and happy thoughts. The challenge for marketing professionals is to introduce their product or service to potential consumers in a way that gets their attention and promotes positive mindshare. There are myriad strategies for that – dancing babies, humor, earnest testimonials, purring kittens – but the goal is the same.
Today’s Online Marketing
Marketing online is predominantly about search. Although content is still king, content matters little if potential consumers have no idea it exists. Ergo, finding the right mechanism to introduce consumers to a specific message becomes the critical element in any marketing plan.
In the early days of online marketing, ads were relatively untargeted – think commercial emails and banner ads. With the ascendency of AdSense and more sophisticated web-tracking tools came the ability to target specific ads to specific customer profiles. This increased the relevance of ads that appeared before a potential consumer, but consumers responded by largely ignoring most ads. Hence, the growth of viral marketing and the increasing intrusiveness of online tracking and the concurrent privacy backlash.
(Image courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/bmassey/5404492255/)
When social media — including blogs, consumer reviews, YouTube videos, Twitter and Facebook — reached a critical mass, advertisers took notice. Facebook alone has more than 350 million active users sharing 3.5 billion pieces of media (like links, articles and videos) each week, according to statistics compiled in March 2011 by Jake Hurd of econsultancy.
Although social sites like Facebook consumed a significant part of most people’s online time, the marketing breakthrough comes from hooking a product or service into a social stream for other consumers to encounter natively. Consider the choice of dish detergent. With all the choices available, do you pick one randomly or do you notice that Aunt Gertrude “likes” Brand X so you also pick Brand X? Put differently, do you trust an AdSense link or banner ad, or do you trust the implicit recommendation of a member of your tribe?
Interplay of Search and Social Media
The major statistic for search and social isn’t a number but a multiplier. Paul Cook, CEO of TagMan, says that social media gets eight times less credit for its direct contribution to sales than it should. Part of this may relate to the difficulty of assigning weights to the source of inbound links; Cook’s findings note the challenge of attributing direct value to natural search, paid search and assisted search, so metrics may prove either inconsistent or inconclusive.
A white paper by Chris Copeland, CEO of GroupM Search, shares several eye-opening statistics. He notes that his study:
“..showed a 50 percent click-through-rate increase in paid search when consumers were exposed to influenced social media and paid search … Among searchers using a brand’s product name in a query, the CTR increased from 4.5 percent to 11.8 percent when users were exposed to both influenced social media and paid search around a brand.”
GroupM’s report notes that the top reason consumers use social media in their purchase process (31 percent of them) is to get other people’s opinion.
The search engines are wise to this. Bing can pull in Facebook “like” flags and Google just introduced its “+1” feature that functions in a similar manner. Google’s roll-out material gets to the point: “Sometimes it’s easier to find exactly what you’re looking for when someone you know already found it.” Put differently, +1 crowdsources search based only on the people you pull into your tribe.
And Twitter and Yahoo! Research recently released a study suggesting that 50 percent of all Twitter content is generated by a mere 10,000 users and that Twitter doesn’t appear to be “social” in the traditional sense of the term. There are implications there for Twitter-heavy social marketing strategies.
Despite all our technology, people’s tribal instinct remains strong. Companies that want to position their product or service in the social space may benefit from using social media to increase brand awareness rather than as a sales mechanism.
If CTR maximization tops the goal chart, then integrating social is essential. The key points are infrastructure (give the consumer the ability to “like” or “+1” something) and soft-sell messaging. Although tactics will vary by industry, providing content that can be added to the social space (like blog posts or YouTube videos) will probably meet with more success than creating a non-descript fan page. It’ll also help influence Universal search results and get your social content (photos/images) visible and visited.
Users interact with specific content, not with general landing pages. Give consumers a reason to share content socially – for example, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh created his first Facebook fan page in late 2010 and encouraged people to “like” it by giving away 10 free iPads, for example, earning him more than 800,000 fans in short order.
Social media integration into search marketing is less about advertising than about brand management. Building brand equity promotes trust and consumers are generally willing to share their trust online. CTR increases come not from hard-sell marketing in the moment but by creating compelling content that generates the positive mind-share that over the medium- and long-term increases the number of “like” and “+1” flags that fuel tribal, crowdsourced search.